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Is Firefox in a Fix?

By Katherine Noyes
Jul 14, 2014 7:39 PM PT

It's been difficult to hear ourselves think here in the Linux blogosphere lately, what with all the distractions that have been thrown our way.

Is Firefox in a Fix?

We've had the NSA casting aspersions on Linux users; we've had the IRS looking askance at FOSS. We've even had the well-respected Tor Project sucked into a lawsuit over revenge porn, of all things.

Ready for the latest? None other than this: "Is Firefox dying a slow death?"

'Definitely Waning!'

Linux Girl

That, indeed, was the headline over at ITworld, and variations on the theme could be heard elsewhere in the blogosphere as well.

"Firefox web browser popularity wanes" was the version over at ZDNet; "the popularity of Firefox is definitely waning!" was the opinion of another blogger.

Numerous anxious discussions soon popped up throughout the Linux blogosphere -- including two (here and here) on LXer alone -- so Linux Girl knew it was time to learn more.

'The Anti-IE Browser'

"The numbers tell the story here," offered Google+ blogger Kevin O'Brien. "Firefox is losing market share, and it is losing it to Chrome -- Safari and Opera also lost a little, and IE is stagnant (in more ways than one, I suspect)."

One big reason is that "Firefox was the 'anti-IE' browser for a number of years, but now Chrome does that to a satisfactory degree," O'Brien opined. "Add in the easy integration with all of the Google services, Chromebooks and Android, and I have trouble seeing much of a future here.

"A lot will hinge on whether Google renews the deal with Firefox," he added. "They might, since it is pocket change to Google, and if I were in charge there I would do it because Google has enough problems without getting blamed for killing Firefox."

'Stop Messing With the Formula'

This is what happens "when you try to force changes from on high instead of listening to your customers," SoylentNews blogger hairyfeet said. "MSFT found this out with Windows 8 and Metro."

In a competitive environment, "if you don't give the customers what they want, they go somewhere else," hairyfeet added. "In this case, the consensus on Soylent is that Pale Moon is the big winner, with many FF users jumping over to PM after the devs stated they will NOT be going with the new GUI."

Indeed, "I wish they'd stop messing with the formula and just put out a quality Web browser," Hyperlogos blogger Martin Espinoza agreed. "If they want to play with new functionality, try that out in a preview release and then actually listen to the community. The facelift is a textbook example."

The DRM Debacle

There are two factors causing the apparent decrease in Firefox's popularity, Google+ blogger Gonzalo Velasco C. asserted.

First is "the 'problem' with CEOs -- one accused of sexism and the other bending over to DRM," he said. "The first issue was kind of forced into the community heart, since that person never brought that into the community, really; the second issue is there for all of us to see: FF is not the 100 percent FLOSS friend and flag-carrier it used to be. There is still time to review this decision, Mozilla!"

The other key factor, though, is "the almost continuous growth of Chromium/Chrome popularity," Gonzalo Velasco C. suggested. "The number of desktop and laptop computers is not growing that much, while more portables and smartphones are on the rise. These last ones use Android apps... and there it is, Google Chrome! So 2+2=4."

The day Firefox OS comes out "for real," however, "numbers will change a little in its favor," he predicted.

Firefox also could end up as the default browser on the Ubuntu Phone, he added.

In any case, "I still use and prefer Firefox or Iceweasel," Gonzalo Velasco C. said.

'We Really Need a 3rd Option'

"I believe Firefox is in trouble, but less for the Web browser and more for outside problems," Google+ blogger Alessandro Ebersol agreed. "The ousting of Eich, the DRM problem -- all those imbroglios have tarnished the image of Firefox."

So, on one side, "agnostic users left Firefox because they were told its new CEO was a conservative bigot," he said. On the other, "the folks who care about freedom, privacy and open Internet left Firefox because of the DRM module to play Netflix. So, on both fronts, Firefox's image was burned."

Yet the latest version of the browser is "the best in a long time," Ebersol opined -- "fast, and with a beautiful interface. The previous Linux GTK interface was horrid."

Meanwhile, "how I wish Firefox phone could take off and fly high, because we really need a third option which is not Windows Phone," he concluded. "So, I'm hoping for the best but expecting the not-so-best to happen."

'Huge Danger in Trusting Google'

Firefox "has a reputation of being a bit bloated and slow, which hurts it relative to Chrome," noted Chris Travers, a blogger who works on the LedgerSMB project.

On the other hand, "there are a number of reasons to be skeptical of Chrome in security-critical environments," Travers said. "Firefox, for example, has more options to deal with SSL certificate validation, while Chrome can only either soft fail or just get a list of 'important' expired certificates from Google."

In fact, "there is a huge danger in trusting Google -- or any other single large company, particularly one with interests in U.S. defense contracts -- with the responsibility to determine whether a certificate revocation is important enough to tell you about," he added. "With Chrome, you give up a lot of control over your own security."

'It's Good to Have Choices'

Firefox is "still a great browser," blogger Robert Pogson agreed. "I use both Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox in my home."

The key feature that distinguishes them in terms of usage is the search window, Pogson said.

"I like the fact that Google's Chrome uses the same window for both search strings and URLs," he explained. "That saves time and pointing."

Of course, "letting Google know what we are searching for is a vulnerability for some and an accelerator for others," he acknowledged. "Google's search is sublime when it knows your search history..."

In any case, "both browsers are Free Software except that Chrome includes Flash Player," but "there's Chromium if you don't want that," Pogson pointed out. "It's good to have choices -- unlike that other OS and its browser. What are those people using Internet Exploder thinking?"

Katherine Noyes is always on duty in her role as Linux Girl, whose cape she has worn since 2007. A mild-mannered journalist by day, she spends her evenings haunting the seedy bars and watering holes of the Linux blogosphere in search of the latest gossip. You can also find her on Twitter and Google+.

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